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NTSB releases final report on adventurer Steve Fossett's fatal crash

An encounter with downdrafts in the mountainous terrain near Mammoth Lakes, Calif., was the probable cause of the fatal crash of adventurer and record-setting aviator Steve Fossett, the National Transportation Safety Board said today. Read the entire report here.

In 2005, Fossett set a world record from Salina when he became the first person to fly solo 23,000 miles around the world without refueling, in a heavily-modified single-engine plane called the GlobalFlyer. Hundreds turned out for his take-off from the Salina Airport and his return nearly three days later.

I spoke with Fossett during that time. With his friendly manner, he easily could have been your next-door neighbor. Students he selected from Kansas State University in Salina for mission control spoke highly of him. He would call them up sometimes while he was in town and invite them out for pizza.

The NTSB determined at the time of the crash that Fossett’s plane, a Bellanca 8KCAB-180, struck mountainous terrain after he inadvertently encountered downdrafts that exceeded the plane’s capability to climb. The wreckage was discovered 300 feet below the crest of a ridge marked by steep terrain near a group of tall pine trees.

Fossett had taken off Sept. 3, 2007 in a flight described by his wife as a “Sunday drive,” the NTSB said.

A month-long search failed to locate the aircraft. But a year later, a hiker found some of Fossett’s belongings and an aerial search located the wreckage. DNA testing of bone fragments determined that Fossett died in the crash. the NTSB said.

It’s a true loss.